At the weekend I had a Leonidas Kavakos double whammy: two hours in his company on Saturday interviewing him for the January issue of The Strad and then hearing him on Sunday playing Prokofiev’s First Concerto with Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra.
In person he’s extremely charming, very open and forthright, whether about the ridiculous prices being paid for Strads and Guarneris to disappear into private collections, how badly right-hand bow technique is taught these days, or how little students interest themselves in the working parts of their instruments.
Interestingly, he’s put aside his ‘Falmouth’ Stradivari for the moment to play a Guadagnini, which he used at the concert. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I’d have known if he hadn’t told me, although once I did know, it did sound less sweet and slightly more nasal than a Strad. But it did make me wonder: with such high-class playing, does it really matter?
The machine-gun accuracy of the Kavakos’s technical passages was amazing, as ever, as was the beauty of his colouring and phrasing, although I think I prefer him in the more obviously romantic repertoire of Brahms and Sibelius.
Sadly, though, Kavakos didn’t play any of his eye-watering encores, so I had to make do with YouTube: (Paganini Caprice no.5. There’s a story that when his prospective teacher Gingold heard a recording of Kavakos playing Paganini, he sent it to be analysed to see if it could have been tampered with to make it seem so fast. You can certainly hear why on this clip.)